Long Lands Common is 30 acres of open farmland, surrounded by fields and hedgerows, on a plateau at the source of various water courses such as Bilton Beck and therefore quite boggy in places.
Trees will of course be planted over large areas of the site, although the aim should not be to end up with a dense, dark, closed wood. A woodland with open areas (grassland, wildflower meadows, verges and thickets of thorny scrub) is better for all sorts of animals and plants. Interestingly, this might be closer to the ancient landscape of the great Knaresborough ‘Forest’ – which this area is historically part of. The word ‘forest’ originally meant a hunting area with open and diverse habitats.
Native Arboretum and Tree Cathedral:
We could have an area of trees planted to educate people about the native flora of the area, with small information boards and identification charts (perhaps accompanied by a worksheet that you could download from our website and fill in as you walk around). An interesting addition could be trees that are expected to do better under a changing climate, so people understand how our dynamic landscape might evolve.
Depending on the layout of the site, the Arboretum or a nearby area could be laid out to form a ‘Tree Cathedral’ – a beautiful pathway through the wood, perhaps with a view at the end, an uplifting and magical experience to walk through.
Crucial for pollinating insects and for providing space for rare plants and animals, a wildflower meadow is also a beautiful thing in its own right - Thorny scrub, thickets and hedgerows.
‘Scrub’ is almost a term of abuse, implying an area that is messy and neglected. However dense thickets of thorny shrubs are vital for providing a safe refuge for many animals and plants, and often act as a nursery (almost like natural barbed wire) to allow native trees to grow. There are established hedgerows around the edge of the site, and these could act as a basis for dense thickets to grow outwards and very quickly become established.
Marshy Areas and Pond:
Creating a pond, or even better, allowing an area to naturally revert to a marsh, would be one of the best things we could do for improving biodiversity, and will also help with preventing flooding further downstream in Bilton Beck and the river Nidd. A walkway over a marshy area would allow people to observe all the fascinating bird and insect life that requires access to water. There is a pond and a stream adjacent to the site, so these could perhaps form the start of a watery network of habitats for aquatic animals and plants. There is a turf-covered observation 'hide' in the background with bug hotels and bird feeding stations, with birch trees planted against the existing tall conifer hedge.
Long Lands Common is on an area of quite high ground between Harrogate and Knaresborough, and although there are no significant hills on site, one end of the site has great views over the landscape, looking up Nidderdale towards the moors. If this area of the site is left as grassland, thickets and meadow, it will provide a feeling of space and will be a lovely place to relax.
Sensory Garden/Standing Stones:
A small part of the site could be made into a ‘sensory garden’ or spiritual area, the kind of place that people might like to meditate in and feel attuned to the landscape. For those with disabilities, this might be a safe place to be in to grow accustomed to being surrounded by nature. Small standing stones or other ‘land art’ might help to connect people to the environment, as they could have done for our ancestors thousands of years ago. Who knows? Perhaps Stonehenge and the Twelve Apostles on Ilkley Moor were community art projects!
Long Lands Common is a venture by community groups for the benefit of the community, and children will be key to its existence in the long term. If they grow up loving the area as a place of fun and relaxation, they will look after it long after the founders are dead and gone. It would be great if an area of the Common could be left for children to develop, for example through school or guides/scouts/cubs/brownies projects, or even more informally through local children creating dens and secret places for themselves.
In pre-modern times, an area of ‘common’ woodland would be important for the local community as a source of materials for all their needs – buildings, fuel, food, furniture and tools. Woodlands were looked after and managed intensively as part of the life of the community. It would be great to re-establish some of this tradition, and this in turn could benefit wildlife through, again, establishing a diverse, mixed, dynamic habitat. Through learning how to use natural materials, a new generation of craftspeople and artists could emerge, all with an interest in preserving the ‘common’ woodland.
The whole woodland will be a place for people to have wonderful learning experiences, for example through seeing animals and plants they might never have seen otherwise, and learning about how a woodland establishes itself. In addition, an area of the common, perhaps near the main access, could be devoted to information boards, maps and identification charts for educational purposes e.g. school visits. This could be complemented by online materials on the Long Lands Common website, linked to learning resources provided by regional or national bodies such as RSPB, Woodland Trust and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.